Language barriers can cause barriers in education, as well. To help foreign-speaking students succeed, the brother and sister team of Tanner and Taitlyn Dutey teach English as a Second Language (ESL) classroom at Portsmouth City School District. 

Taitlyn has been teaching ESL for five years and Tanner has been teaching ESL for two years. Taitlyn said she started with just one student, and today there are more than 30 students grades K-12, in the ESL program at Portsmouth City Schools. Some students might start ESL in kindergarten, or they might join as a middle schooler when they first enroll with Portsmouth City Schools. Students are identified as possible ESL students based on their answers to the home language survey in the district’s enrollment form. 

“Some of our kids just got here from another country and don’t speak any English. For others, English isn’t the language spoken in their house. Some are born here and have been in school all their lives, but still behind academically because when they leave here they don’t speak English at all,” Taitlyn said. 

Taitlyn said her undergraduate degree is in global studies and she spent five months working an internship in Peru. She was initially offered a part-time job at Portsmouth, but both she and the district quickly realized the importance of having someone full-time. Taitlyn went back to college to earn her master’s in ESL education and came back to Portsmouth full-time.

“It’s a lot of pictures. It goes very slow. It’s really like you’re starting with an infant. We focus very much just on the communication aspect. Reading and writing is down the road,” Taitlyn said. “We had students last year who I said I would be happy if they could say they needed to go to the restroom. This year they’re speaking complete sentences and they can answer questions when I speak in English. However, if I put a piece of paper in front of them and said ‘read this’ they can’t do that yet. And that’s OK. This is a marathon and not a sprint. We’ll get there.”

ESL students are also taking other classes, like math and science, so the ESL classroom works closely with other teachers to keep the students on track. Together they create goals for the student to achieve, and lesson plans that they can understand while still also learning the curriculum. Tanner’s undergraduate degree is in science and he joined to help students in areas of math and science.

“For the most part, I teach these kids English and he’s inside their math and science classes with them, or pulling them in small groups to work on those things,” Taitlyn said. 

The program is growing quickly, Taitlyn said, and it can be difficult to juggle different grade levels and different schedules for each student. 

“The biggest thing Tanner and I both try to establish from the beginning is that they feel safe, they feel loved, and they feel heard. We can work on the rest, but until they feel those things they’re never going to try,” Taitlyn said.

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